You know how at a family reunion, somehow in the sea of relatives/strangers who all seem like aliens, you meet a young distant cousin who’s got style and just enough of a snarly attitude that inspires a sigh of great relief, “ah yes…this kid gets it. We are going to be fine.”
I imagine that to some degree the New York “dancepunk” cognoscenti feel this way about Phenomenal Handclap Band.
(Editor’s Note: “Following” is available now until midnight on March 7 as a free download as Today’s Top Tune!)
Arriving to the party many years after New York’s wave crested in the early/mid 2000s, Phenomenal Handclap Band should (on paper) not be on our radar. However, they’ve brilliantly gamed the system and garnered attention precisely by not being on the radar. By not trying to be “the next big thing,” and instead focusing on being a tight working band, they’ve built a solid cult following and ended up tour mates with Bryan Ferry on his most recent tour.
Less a “rock band” with a front man, PHB seem to be working from a kind of “disco orchestra” template, reminiscent of Peter Gordon’s Light of Love. Their strength is in the clarity of their psychedelic soul disco, but on their new album, “Form & Control,” the versatility of their sound (which even has prog rock leanings) seems boundless.
The record’s cover (which is currently my favorite album cover of 2012) paints a portrait of a lost mystic psych band waiting for something on the shores of a huge modular synth pantheon. It’s pure genius. And the record tells the tale of a band searching, not necessarily for their sound, but truth in form. From their ABBA popdisco to motorik kraut to psychedelic guitar noodling to Alan Parsons-esque maximalism, Phenomenal Handclap Band are exploring the possibilities and seeing how well they can pull it off. And the exciting thing about it is, they do.
It’s the sound of that distant cousin riffling through a stack of your father’s unlistened to records in the basement and studying the finest details of the cover of Santana’s “ABRAXAS” and the inside of Yes’ “Close to the Edge.”
Yes, we are going to be fine.
— Mario Cotto